Creating Crone Stones

I’m sitting with my friend, Kim, in a noisy pub in Northern Virginia. I am giving Kim a “Crone Stones” reading. She pulls 3 stones for a “Crone Throw.” One of the stones is “the Listener.” The by-the-book message for this stone is to listen to what the universe has to say; it’s speaking boatloads. The stone is ruled by Merseger, a goddess who silently guards the gates of the necropolis (aka, burial grounds) in Egyptian myth. Kim is an easy-going person, always cheerful and upbeat, but then Kim shares a part of herself I have never met.

Kim wonders aloud how she will ever move beyond the grief she is experiencing. A good friend just passed away. Be it because we are sitting in a public place, or because she won’t let herself further reveal the weight of her sadness, Kim is still looking cheerful and upbeat while she is telling me this. Her circumstances bring to light another interpretation of the Listener stone. As we talk together about her feelings of loss, Merseger’s message takes on new meaning for Kim: We realize together that Kim guards the gates of her own necropolis, shielding herself and others from her grief in a quiet stoicism.

Similar stories have unfolded during other readings, for other stones. When pulling the “She Who Knows” stone, its meaning initially was the wisdom that we all possess deep within, a pretty homogenous message with other crones in the set. However, She Who Knows has developed into a message about the wisdom of the body. The pain and discomfort we often endure can be a signal to get in touch with emotional stress which can be linked to physical disease.
When I first developed Crone Stones, I wouldn’t have considered such a message because I had yet to read Christiane Northrop’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom which explores how much our bodies can teach us. This has been one of the most fun aspects of Crone Stones for me over the years – watching them continue to take on new meaning and then offer wisdom from a variety of sources. My intent is to provide a system for guiding intuition, something I hope to make appealing for an increasingly wider audience.

Talk about a niche market – in 1994, tarot and runes — like yoga — were still pretty obscure. The metaphysical/new age/pagan studies section in Borders hadn’t manifested yet (but it was close). Neighbors and co -workers thought I was from another planet (“What was all that whooping in your back yard last night, Carol?”). At that time, as now, I felt a strong conviction that a very spiritual part of women’s consciousness had been sequestered to an almost forgotten corner of living, the part of our consciousness as women that remembers our place in the “creation business,” the part that remembers that our bodies weren’t always a one-size-fits all. Since I was five years old, I felt that everyone who prayed to the god of Abraham had been sold a bill of goods regarding how human beings first arrived on the scene. I wasn’t convinced that the story of Adam and Eve added up. I also had a private and deep belief that people hungered to discover the part of themselves that could be realized by unraveling this denial of the female, or what would later be called the “Sacred Feminine.”

I was in my early twenties when I started yearning. I needed answers and didn’t feel satisfied with traditional sources. I became a book-read eco-feminist, devout Starhawk and Z Budapest follower, a prayerful practitioner of Vicki Noble’s Motherpeace cards, and self-described scholar of Marija Gimbutas’s great philosophies of everything they weren’t teaching in schools. My alma mater in Virginia didn’t offer a Women’s Studies BA option until my senior year. The words “slavery,” “venereal disease” and “smallpox” were not used in association with Native American history until my junior year. Nothing in the Anthropology field offered anything about God the Mother. Shamanism was considered cool and was semi-accessible, but, somewhat like today, was relegated to lesser belief systems. Still, I sensed there was a wider universe out there.

Moving forward a few years: I came this close to packing up my things and moving to San Francisco because there were times I felt terribly out of place in the dominantly conservative commonwealth of Virginia. I was blessed to meet some amazing women, friends, and friends of friends who seemed to share a similar outlook. One women I met who was raised Catholic understood and respected the connection of the Virgin Mary and the goddess Diana and the symbols that they shared. She and I had many good talks about the moon. Another woman, very much a solo practitioner of both Buddhism and goddess worship, was the kind of friend that seemed to enchant you with everything she said or did. She’s the kind of friend you always feel like you wished you brought a gift to, no matter what the occasion.

We started out as a book club, but right away we found that we wanted to live what we were reading about, we wanted to put into practice all of these ideas we had been talking about. One friend was very talented at yoga and meditation, another was a craft goddess. I, of course, loved anything of goddess lore and so around 1991, six of us created a women’s group we called, “Electric Lady Land.” My circle sisters were a grounding and supportive influence and we shared many years practicing ritual and meditation together that quenched my yearning for the west coast.

Since this was way before we had kids, we had planning meetings and we met on hinges (solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days), new moons, full moons, birthdays, and of course, the every-so-often initiation ceremony which was always elaborate and otherworldly. It usually took over an acre of someone’s wooded back yard or in a basement. Practicing magic helped to bring the cerebral knowledge to the heart and live the richest life possible because the spirit just clamors for a chance to play. Electric Lady Land was a contributing force that helped me birth Crone Stones into the world. But there was something else as well.

So many of life’s developments culminated into a very transitional time between age 27 and 30 – in less than 3 years, I lost my mom to cancer, got married, changed jobs and quit smoking. It probably isn’t surprising that I became more reflective of my life in the months that followed and I found myself walking in the woods near my home. A lot. In retrospect, it was more like pacing long distance.

Quitting smoking is one of those things that you do for all the right reasons, but it also forces you to confront the demons that caused you to start in the first place. There was a certain insanity to face after smoking for over fifteen years, especially since I started smoking at age 14 for every stupid reason you can think of.

My meditation circle helped but it didn’t fill in those endless moments of craving. Yoga and meditation had a positive effect but walking became the coping mechanism of choice, rather than go out with friends, many of whom smoked (cigarette trigger). Trying to tap creative juices by practicing guitar (cigarette trigger) and sitting around doing nothing (cigarette trigger) were also out of the question.

I hit the woods with fervor. And after weeks of this, when days changed to shorter afternoons with purpling clouds heralding winter skies, I started making some connections. Connections with myself and life and everything, which is connected to everything. I felt energized and that translated into awareness.

Pretty soon I felt better, I could see more clearly, my libido went up (a happy husband loved this new me!) and, okay, this is going to sound weird – I made a connection with the trees in the woodland where I went walking every day. I had read in a book on Celtic shamanism that the ancients once made certain gestures — like those carved on the famous Gunderstrup cauldron, a 1st century CE silver vessel found in Denmark — — to connote praising, invoking, or blessing.

Before I walked down these dense pathways for hours at a time, I would hold my hands in some of these postures when I entered the wood: Praising looks like you are crossing your hands and placing them over your heart, invoking looks like you’re holding your arms out on either side, as if you’re lifting a large bar bell. I’d enter the woods invoking and praising the spirit of beech, holly and oak and then I’d lower my arms but keep my hands opened wide as I went deeper into the forest. This resembled a walking meditation, I suppose. The results were intoxicating. So much so that I felt like branches were shooting out of my arms and my head and below my feet. This was beyond novelty. This was transcendental.

In that window of growing awareness, I started thinking about the imagery of women and how one might personify the energy cycles – energy cycles that are everywhere in nature and which have reflected art since the dawn of humankind.
Seeing everything in its totality is part of what I consider a crone’s awareness. It is the wisdom that all things wax and wane. That life is cyclical, not linear.


This first image, “The Connector,” became a powerful visual metaphor for the energy I had been witness to. There was liberation in this image as well as the depiction of flowing energy. I began to think about what brought me to this new state of consciousness – where was the path before and where was it going afterward?


“The Seeker” stone, which shows the pathway disappearing over the horizon, reflected the road to now. But what was on the other side of the new freedom, new awareness, new empowerment? It was letting go.


Letting go of the things I couldn’t control, like losing my mom, being unhappy in a job and the addictions, like smoking, that go with the need to hold on to things. The “Letting Go” stone is portrayed by a ceremony of casting a boat into the water and sending it on its away journey. The boat contains things we know we must let go of.

And so the reality of the human journey, a universal story, began to plant itself in my mind. I knew my experiences were not unique. It was certainly like the hero’s journey, the quest we are on in life represented by the knight’s noble aspirations and the promise of the Grail cup. The story that came before the hero’s journey, though, the ancient Great Mother religion that for the bulk of our human existence told a cyclical tale of birth, death and rebirth: How can art reflect this? The personification of those cycles fell quite easily into the guises of maiden, mother, and crone.


Tearing through old photographs held new meaning for me. I came across a friend’s picture in which she was breastfeeding her infant son and her body seemed to be surrounding him in a circle, a protective oval, becoming She Who Nurtures.

The pot of imagery grew and stewed and began to form a structure of its own. Eleven stones represented “the Maiden,” a category of stones where all the messages reflect growth and development. Eleven stones represented “the Mother,” a powerful grouping of stones that reflected the achievement of connection and our source of fulfillment; lastly, “the Crone” stones showed images of closure, transformation and wisdom.

My mother was an artist. She discouraged me from focusing too much on art because she said it is a lonely profession. My images stayed pretty rudimentary, sketchy. I had loved playing with tarot cards for over ten years by then, and I had considered developing these sketches into a feminist tarot deck. But since quitting cigarettes, I had begun playing with runes and their tactile nature was very soothing for my restless hands.

I wandered the aisles of a local arts and crafts shop looking for a way to turn my sketches into a divination tool, feeling pretty frustrated. This was before the days of Sculpe where all that you could find was paper mache and old fashioned clay. There was not much invoking and praising going on along these trails. Finally I came up with something to get them off the paper and onto a medium to experiment with. Small oval wood chips about 1” x 2” and a couple of millimeters thick. I shrunk my images, glued them onto the wood chips, stained and Polyurethaned them. Voila! Crone Bones, the precursor to Crone Stones, were born.

I used them with my circle sisters, developed lay-outs and messages. Definitions took root while sorting through life’s issues, and I began working on the accompanying booklet that would aid the user in tapping their insights.
I enjoyed the Crone Bones but wanted them to be more like stones, something that could ground you, that carried weight and had a good feel when they were handled. Crone Bones felt hollow.

I had such a sense of urgency to get them out the door and off the ground. I had no money, but I had friends that were artists and knew artists. One expressed an interest in making molds for me which I filled with liquid porcelain and then inscribed with iron oxide. I fired the stones at a local ceramic shop until finally, finally!, I could afford a kiln of my own. I called her Pele, after the volcano goddess of Polynesian myth.

One of my initial orders with Pyramid catalogue called for 164 sets (that’s 33 stones per set…). That order came in the middle of winter while we lived in a tiny rambler in Springfield, VA. The sanding of the stones caused so much dust that I had to prepare the stones for the kiln outside in our carport. We bought a small heater and used a blue tarp over the front of the carport secured with duck tape to try to keep the cold and wind out. It was tough, but I was in heaven.

I don’t really have any big secrets to offer the reader. This journey was one of healing and self-discovery for me. The hardest part today is the business aspect of promoting the stones, but I still feel this urgency to share them with the world. It really takes all I have not to impose them on any old Joe or Joanna, like pull them out at wedding receptions or a local bar or restaurant. Oh, wait! I do bring them out everywhere…

The more they’re used, the more I grow and learn about the human experience, a rich broad spectrum of living a life that reaches all of our corners of potential. It is this we strive for.

My heart is full of gratitude.

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Crone

Perhaps one of the most fascinating of all crones is Cailleach Bheur, the “divine hag” and possibly an ancestral deity or deified ancestor. Throughout Scotland and Ireland she is considered the oldest of the old. Not much has ever been written about her. Folklore of Cailleach (kay-lick) is found through oral tradition and place names across the countryside. She is also known for playing tricks on the unsuspecting. Hiring young men to do work for her, hunched over and frail looking, she tells the workers she will only pay them if they can outlast her in moving rocks. It was rare indeed for Cailleach to ever have to pay her workers.

One way we can pay homage to Cailleach is to observe the changing landscape. While the trees become bare and the grass fades to straw during winter’s long stretch, take a moment to reflect on the spirit of rock, tree and hill. They all have a story and maybe long ago, had an old woman’s name.

The crone today is mostly pictured like Cailleach, an old woman with supernatural powers. Pop culture has maintained this character from folklore and fairy tales since historic times. The core aspect of the crone’s role in society and her power, however, can date back to the prehistoric.

The crone of ancient times was a revered figure. Excavated funereal sites in Eastern Europe (c 8,000 BCE) show many instances where the matriarch of the household was buried beneath the threshold of the front door. Scholars believe this would ensure the deceased’s continued protection of the home. (Gimbutas)

Mature women up through the Middle Ages had significant roles as caretakers of their entire community. Having survived childbirth themselves, they had the luxury of time and knowledge, of what plants worked best and the experience of watching patterns in nature. With the advent of the new church fathers in Europe who proclaimed that only through prayer and God’s grace could people be cured of their ailments, women’s contributions became increasingly marginalized, as was their involvement with helping women determine the number of children they would bear and raise. Limiting childbirth also conflicted with the teachings of the church in that families were encouraged to be as large as possible (Mor).

How did she get so frightening when her origins as caretaker, midwife, and healer of her community were intended to produce only healthy outcomes?

As societies grew in population, the role of the crone became more and more marginalized. Europe, for example, created a social stratum that included a legal and medical system and excluded the valuable contributions of the older women of the community. As this reassignment advanced, the truths behind the once-revered caretaker of the village began to fade into the realm of folklore and legend, and the fear of what the crone represented grew. As a result we now have a culture weighted by our obsession with youth and a debilitating fear of aging. (Daly)

In our culture there has been very little visual imagery demonstrating the power of the aging female, for she is no longer able to fulfill her role as baby-maker and she still retains a wisp of a threat from an older pagan religion which contrasts with the newer Christian religion’s objectives.

The Crones Counsel hosts conferences and other organized forums to help older women’s voices be heard, their stories be known. Such groups are intended to reclaim the crone archetype and “promote equality, encourage diversity, support personal empowerment, honor the value to society of older women’s wisdom and accomplishments.”

Likewise, an emerging movement world-wide called Crone Consciousness is helping women over the age of fifty reclaim the dignity, support, and reverence that the crone has earned in society. Crone Consciousness is shaping the beliefs about how women age, how beauty resonates in wrinkles, and how power is not limited to only a small sliver of the populace.

Here are some websites to jumpstart your crone journey:

Cronemagazine.com
Moondance.com
Cronescounsel.org

She Who Remains: An Unfolding Chronology of the Sacred Feminine

Goddess of Laussel
Goddess of Laussel

Pictured is one of the oldest images of the Sacred Feminine – the Goddess of Laussel.  Located in a cave in Dordogne, France, this relief dates to 27,000 BCE.  Laussel demonstrates the mystical relationship betwen a woman’s body and the cosmos.  The ancients knew this importance – thirteen lines inscribed on the crescent moon denote the thirteen months of the lunar year and (it can be argued) the thirteen nights between menstruation and ovulation.  With one hand the figure holds the crescent and in the other she points to her pelvis;  she seems to say, “Aha!  I see the magical connection between the moon (the universe) and my own body.”

With all of our current health issues surrounding body image, Laussel reminds us that there is a history of reverence for the female form. The cave in Dordogne is not the only prehistoric sacred image of the female. In ancient times, female images abound. Thousands of figurines and images have been found from Southwestern Europe all the way through the Russian Steppes.
 
Though in the last generation  many of us have found ways to love our bodies, we are all of us hard pressed to not criticize our features in some way.  We live in a culture that promotes an unrealistic picture of beauty.  Constantly bombarded with messages of how we look (blondes have more fun, shave your legs, wear higher heels, etc.),  Mary Pipher responds, “This relentless ideal of beauty is quite literally just short of starvation for most women.”   
 
Here’s an example of today’s challenges with the female body:  The average woman is 5’4″ and weighs around 140 lbs.  The average supermodel is 5’11” and weighs 118 lbs.  The average woman has a 7 percent chance that she will be as slim as a catwalk model and a 1 percent chance of being as thin as a supermodel, according to Web site healthyplace.com.  But that doesn’t stop a woman or a girl from trying to be closer in image to a supermodel. The average age of female dieters starts at the age of eight years.

Here is a bedtime story for your young daughters: Once there was a beautiful woman named Yemaya.  She looked into the waters of the ocean and saw her own reflection.  She wondered, “Who is that beautiful woman?  I thought I was the most beautiful.”  As she looked at the woman in the water there came a rumbling in Yemaya’s belly and it grew and grew until it broke open and filled the world with lakes, rivers and streams.

 
Yemaya looked into the new river she had created and saw her reflection looking at her. “Who is that woman in the river?  She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
 
And again her belly grew and grew until she gave birth to the heavens and the stars and the full moon. In the moon she saw herself and said, “Who is that beautiful woman?  I thought I was the most beautiful.”
 
And again her belly expanded larger and larger until it exploded.  Standing before her  were thousands of beautiful women.  Yemaya said again, “Who are you beautiful women?  I thought I was the most beautiful of all.”
 
The women looked deep into the eyes of Yemaya and there they saw their own reflections. They said to her, “You are!  We are you!  We are just you!”
Please visit www.cronestones.com to learn more about integrating goddess myth into the everyday.

Myth Speaks to Women

demeter

Demeter is reunited with Persephone

In our traditional education of mythology, mostly found in English Lit class, mostly Greco-Roman in region and time period, certain insights and wisdoms have been lost. When we study goddesses in secondary roles, that is, roles where a supreme male god presides over lesser gods – think Zeus and Thor – the women’s stories and characters will always leave us wanting. These stories have been handed down to us through various incarnations. Many of the credible messages for women were discarded long ago.

Our main perception of goddesses from anywhere in the world nowadays gets funneled into two stereotypes; namely, virgin and mother. These goddesses are as safe and simple as fairy tales; indeed, one could argue it is through fairy tales and their childish fables that myths of the ancient fem are spoon fed into our culture.

By the same token, when we explore ancient goddess myth and play connect the dots with other neighboring or earlier civilizations, we find rich, complex messages that are much more satisfying to our psyches. For instance, Aphrodite, Hera and Demeter may offer more insight from their pre-Hellenic origins rather then after. Each had histories of preeminence in the agricultural societies that worshipped them. All demonstrated strengths beyond love, marriage and childbirth, including leadership, wisdom sharing and equality among men and women.

Why is goddess myth so important? What can we gleam from goddess myth that hasn’t been examined already? Case in point – Few people know the earliest stories of Demeter and Persephone contained no male characters. The whole shebang had to do with a daughter leaving her mother’s home to find her own life. This is a perfect message for the Empty Nester.

The Human Connection

The kidnapping of Persephone has become the central focus of the story, underscoring the powerlessness of a young girl and the negative response of her mother. When we look at the earliest record of this myth, however, a more human story emerges. Demeter says good-bye to her daughter who is ready to enter adulthood. Her journey is a step into the unknown by way of darkness in the underworld. Demeter faces her own emotional challenge and journeys in her own right by figuring out how to cope with the loss of her daughter, thus all life withers and winter begins. Certainly Persephone’s is the proverbial hero’s journey, a precursor to Christ’s decent into Hell and the old standby – a girl’s initiation into adulthood through menarche.

What distinguishes the female from the male version of the myth is the human element. The separation of mother and daughter is a milestone in every parent’s life. This ancient goddess myth, then, validates Demeter’s emotions and gives value to her role in the story. When her daughter returns in the spring, Demeter is reunited with Persephone. Spring Equinox demonstrates the literal and figurative rebirth of the characters, even though things will never be as they once were. Both women have survived, but they are changed. By telling this story in its human version, we honor the challenges of what mothers and their adult children face.

A Mother and a Daughter

In our society women and their daughters struggle. Mothers worry about their daughters growing up too soon and daughters yearn for freedom to be treated like they are older. It is argued that for thousands of years prior to the Golden Age of Greece, women wielded power as heads of financial institutions and spiritual leaders. The relationship between women might have been different. Our relationship with our children as they age can be different. The separation of mother and daughter in the Demeter myth, which yields the start of a new season, Autumn, shows the unfolding of the human drama, reminding us to let our children become adults. The steps along this path are sprinkled with the seeds of understanding.

Annual Rites

The myth of Demeter and Persephone was celebrated for over two thousand years in an annual rite called the Thesmophoria. A woman centered ritual, participants walked a fourteen mile pilgrimage over three days, chanting, praying, fasting and acting out the perennial myth of Persephone’s journey. At the end of the trek, the congregants shouted, “She is risen, She is risen.” Sound familiar? A Mother/Daughter religion plays precursor to a Father/Son religion.